From the Center for Basque Studies Press Basque Books Bulletin:
On the night of September 20, 1615, the eve of the feast of St. Matthew, an expedition of Basque whalers lost their ships in a fjord near Trékyllisvík, Iceland, during a terrible storm. This led to a series of events that culminated in their October massacre at hands of the islanders. The Basque mariners’ bodies, dismembered, would not be buried. However, not all Icelanders saw that massacre with good eyes. One of them, Jón Guðmundsson, better known as Jón lærði (1574–1658) or “the wise man”, wrote an essay on those events in defense of the victims titled “Sönn frásaga” (The true story). Four hundred years later, on April 20, 2015, an international conference investigated various aspects of this tragic episode of the history of Iceland and the Basque Country. The academic meeting took place at the National Library of Iceland with the participation of experts from all over the world. The program, commemorating the fourth centenary of the massacre of Basque whalers in Iceland, was sponsored by the Government of Gipuzkoa and the Government of Iceland and organized by the Etxepare Institute, the Basque-Finnish Association, the Center for Basque Studies of the University of Nevada, Reno and the Barandiaran Chair of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The latest issue of the journal of this eminent institute contains a glowing review of Joseba Zulaika’s book. Written by Isaac Marrero-Guillamóm, the review opens to the heart of this remarkable book, “This is not a book about Bilbao, nor is it an ethnography of the Basque city. It is, rather, a multi-layered by-product of Bilbao—a book possessed by its history, people, ghosts, and art.”
You should click here and read the whole review, but I want to leave you with the final words of the review:
Ultimately, this book is recommended for those interested in the anthropology of the Spanish transition to democracy. It is also a remarkable experiment in auto-ethnographic writing. Its opening lines are a compelling invitation to the potential reader:
It was the spring of 1999 and a Carnival Monday morning when I returned for a visit to San Felicísimo (‘Saint Happiest’) – the Bilbao monastery where in the 1960s, as a teenager and for almost a decade, I tried hard to become a saint, but was finally expelled, an atheist and suicidal (p. 9).
If you don’t have a copy of this “remarkable” (a sentiment I could not agree with more) book, buy it right now!
From the Center for Basque Studies Books Newsletter:
The Center is proud to launch Echevarria, a novel in which dialogue is central, and to participate in the celebration of bertsolaritza at this year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. In that spirit, here are some more things you may be interested in!
Much of what it means to be human is revealed through language and the spoken word predates its written counterpart by millennia. Indeed, whether we realize it or not, oral culture is at the very heart of the Western cultural legacy with the Homeric epics—the earliest works of Western literature—ostensibly oral in nature. Orality pervades Basque culture to this day and the Center’s publications reflect this fascinating dimension of the Basque experience in general. Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, is, to date, the most detailed study in English of the specifically Basque phenomenon of bertsolaritza–“versifying” or improvised oral poetry that is sung in different formal and informal contexts–and how this art form is part of the global oral tradition of verse. Likewise, Part I of Basque Literary History, edited and with a preface by Mari Jose Olaziregi, is devoted to oral literature, with chapters on the current state of orality as a literary form and the history of bertsolaritza. And beyond those works that specifically address Basque oral culture, it is interesting to note just how deep orality runs in the Basque storytelling tradition, whether it be in the form of tales from the Old Country as transcribed and discussed in Wentworth Webster’s charming Basque Legends, or the New World recollections of Joan Errea in her compelling autobiographical accounts of growing up in a Basque household rural Nevada: My Mama Marie and A Man Called Aita. And what better platform to reflect the influence of the oral culture storytelling craft than in literature for children and young adults? Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees by Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton, is a whimsical story about the adventures of a five-year-old girl, Maite Echeto, her beloved friend Oui Oui Oui, a goslin. Meanwhile, renowned Basque author Bernardo Atxaga’s Two Basque Stories includes two tales framed around the relationship between grandfathers and grandsons that clearly reflect this oral storytelling tradition. Finally, for many examples of early bertsoak from the West, check out Asun Garikano’s Far Western Basque Country!
Echevarria is a new house, a new world, etxe (house) berria (new). It tells one hundred years of solitude and family history in Elko, Nevada and the Basque diaspora. The new family in the West is the necessary and awkward melding of Basque, Mexican, Chinese and Anglo settlers on the frontier. The human family is eternal and inviolable and there is only one story to tell—the intersection of young boy and young girl and the eternity of love. Death is its companion. And at the center of their journey is Echevarria—the Basque hotel.
While wrapping up my fieldwork after spending a year here in the Basque Country, I took a day to travel from Bilbao to Durango to see the famous Durango Book Fair. Aside from getting to travel with a friend to this happening scene, with numerous publishers, book stores, and new media, I was able to see a familiar face. Professor Xabier Irujo was presenting his book titled “The Verdad Alternativa“, which discusses the lies and propaganda regarding the catastrophic effects of the bombing of Gernika. The session was well attended with standing room only, with several from the audience providing follow-up questions.
Congratulations Professor Irujo! Look forward to seeing you and everyone else at the Center for Basque Studies in January!
By Sydney Avey
Who are the people we come from? Dee stops asking that question. But after her secretive mother dies, people who each know part of her story come forward.
Geography and culture play a critical role in grounding readers in a fictional story. I chose a Basque heritage for my first novel’s main character precisely because I knew nothing about the Basques. It was the perfect choice. Dolores Moraga Carter (Dee) knows nothing about the Basques either, but she will learn. And her discovery will change her life.
In 2014, The Sheep Walker’s Daughter received an honorable mention in a literary contest sponsored by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Given the fact that I am not Basque, I felt highly honored. In October 2017, the Center published the second edition of The Sheep Walker’s Daughter as a Basque Originals.
An early reviewer characterized the book as a coming-of-age story of a middle-aged woman. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but it rings true. Part of figuring out who we are is understanding our family history. I wrote this story to explore the motives my own mother had in keeping our family heritage a secret.
It isn’t uncommon for a novelist to explore troubling family issues in the guise of fiction. In the process, authors make choices about which personal details to include and which to change. I chose a different heritage from my own because I wanted to stand in Dee’s shoes, free of preconceptions, and explore a culture I knew nothing about.
Why the Basques?
I didn’t have a budget to visit the country I chose, but I needed to have some sense of place to write credibly. I have been to Barcelona and love it. Having some knowledge of that region gave me a place to start some virtual road tripping (films, YouTube) and develop a sense of the terrain.
A Google search led me to the Basque population centers in the United States. Bakersfield, CA was on the list, just a four hour drive from my home in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Yosemite, That allowed me to do some original research.
The Basque culture is a mystery to many Americans, even those of Basque origin. After the first edition came out, many people stepped up to tell me that their heritage was Basque. That they didn’t know much about the culture affirmed that I made the right decision. The Basque theme also popped up in reviews.
“This historical novel introduced me to the Basque culture.”
“The Basque culture was always of interest to me and she described it beautifully from the way of life to the food.”
“The well-researched Basque culture of California provides a credible backdrop for the characters’ emotional journeys as they negotiate between self and family, coldness and warmth, old hurts and new faith.”
I hope one day to visit the Basque land.
During the darkest days, when we were denied our language, our culture and our identity, we were consoled by the knowledge that an American university in Nevada had lit one small candle in the night.
-Lehendakari Jose Antonio Ardanza, March 1988
Last week, on November 8, the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies celebrated its 50th anniversary with CBS faculty, students, and staff as well as countless members of the Basque community and supporters of the Center. Held at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library, the space was packed quickly. There was food and drink and a wonderful atmosphere. People reconnected with old friends and new ones at the lively event. Here’s some background on the CBS ‘s History and Mission:
Originally called the Basque Studies Program, the Center was created in 1967 as part of the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada, Reno. At that time, the DRI was creating new programs to reach various aspects of the Great Basin’s inhabitants and history. The idea for studying the Basques was proposed since Basque-Americans have long formed a prominent minortiy in the region and have contributed a great deal to its development. Bill Douglass served as the Program’s director from 1967-1999, when he retired to become Professor Emeritus in Basque Studies. The Basque Studies Program was renamed the Center for Basque Studies as a result of a program review conducted in 1999.
The primary mission of the CBS is to conceive, facilitate, conduct, and disseminate the results of interdisciplinary research on the Basques to a local, regional, national, and internation audience, and by extension to draw attention to the human experience of small ethnic groups. The Center seeks to maintain excellence in all its endeavors and to achieve its goals through high quality research, publications, conferences, active involvement in scholarly networks throughout the world, as well as through service and teaching.
Channel 2 News was present and recorded a short news video on the event, available online. In it, they interview Xabier Irujo, the CBS director, and Dr. Sandy Ott, one of our professors. The video definitely captures the mood of the event.
President Johnson of UNR was given the word first, and he spoke of the history of the CBS and its impact on the UNR campus. He has taken a few trips to the Basque Country with the advisory council and genuinely enjoys our culture! Next up came William A. Douglass, our namesake and one of the founders of the CBS, as well as a pioneering researcher on Basques in the U.S. Douglass reflected on the center’s history and his own place within it. Dr. Irujo then spoke about both the CBS and Basque Studies in a global context, providing jokes and anecdotes. We were then honored by Jesus Goñi’s bertsoak celebrating the Center’s place in Basque history.
Overall, it was a great event that gathered so many voices from the Basque community and academia. To 50 more years of the CBS!
Although she’s a recent addition to the CBS, Dr. Vaczi is a busy academic. Her book about Bilbao and its soccer madness, entitled Soccer, Culture and Society in Spain: An Ethnography of Basque Fandom (Routledge, 2015) earned Honorable Mention at the 2016 Book Awards of the North American Society for the History of Sport. It also received great reviews in academic journals. Mariann spent the past two years in Catalonia doing ethnographic fieldwork in order to diversify her research interest in sport and sub-national identities. She contributed a chapter on sport in Spain for the Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics, and she published research articles about sport and Basque and Catalan nationalism in American Ethnologist and Ethnos. She was invited to edit a special issue titled Sport, Identity, and Nationalism in the Hispanic World in the Journal of Iberian and South American Literary and Cultural Studies. She will present a paper at the 2017 annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in Windsor, Ontario.
Joseba Zulaika spent the spring semester of 2017 conducting field research on weaponized drones while living at the Catholic Workers Association in Las Vegas. His latest publication activities include “Aresti: A Red Dawn Is Breaking.” Foreword to Gabriel Aresti, Downhill and Rock & Core; “How Terrorism Ends—And Does Not End: The Basque Case,” Critical Studies on Terrorism; “Amets Amerikarra: Babes Nazazu Nahi Dudanagatik,” in Arantxa Elizegi Egilegor; Trump: Amesgaizto amerikarra, in Aleka; “Agirre at the Crossroads,” in The International Legacy of Lehendakari Jose A. Agirre’s Government. Joseba gave various public lectures: “Memoria y reconciliacion,” at the Elkarbizitzarako bilerak, Tolosa, for a debate with Juan Aranzadi and Aitzpea Olaizola, on May 12. He presented the paper “Ciudad, Arquitectura, Laberinto” at the symposium “The Role of Art, Design, and Architecture in the Construction of the Identity of Cities,” in Barcelona, Foment de les Arts i del Disseny, on June 30. He gave a lecture entitled “Terrorism, Sovereignty, and the State of Exception” at Trinity University, Texas, on October 10.
On February 8 and 9, 2017, William Douglass presented public lectures in Boise, Idaho. The first day he gave a seminar on the Basques in Cuba & Beyond in a Basque Culture Class at Boise State University and that afternoon he addressed a University-wide audience on the subject of “Migration and Identity.” The following evening his talk at the Boise Basque Museum was entitled “A Basque Author’s Reflections.” All three events were well attended and were followed by lively public discussion. Before returning to Reno Douglass enjoyed a lunch with the Goitiandias–his Boise Basque “family.” All are descendants of the baserri Goitiandia of Aulestia, Bizkaia, where Bill and his family lived for about a year (1964) while he conducted his anthropological field research for his doctoral dissertation. He subsequently presented his Cuba lecture at the Center for Basque Studies and his “Migration and Identity” one in a seminar at the University of Nevada-Reno Knowledge Center.